While on my submarine kick during the writing of CRASH DIVE, coming in April, I stuck with nonfiction and episodes of THE SILENT SERVICE, which is based on nonfiction accounts of submarine adventures during WWII. I didn’t want to read the classics like DAS BOOT. Sometimes, when you write a certain type of novel, it’s good to read a lot in that genre, as it keeps you in the mood and can inspire some ideas. Other times, it’s a risk. You might end up reading that truly killer book that discourages you from writing your book, because you can’t get your head out of the story you just read and into your own. You find yourself trying too hard to either write or not write the classic, either of which spells trouble for a writer looking for his own story.
After seeing DAS BOOT, I knew the book might be like that, so I avoided it until after I was done writing. (I’m reading it now, and so far, so good.) Then I found out about another classic submarine tale, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP by Edward Beach. It’s a good thing I didn’t, as there are some common elements between that story and CRASH DIVE. I’ll be reading the book soon, but enjoyed watching the 1958 film starring the great Clark Gable and, one of my favorite actors, Burt Lancaster.
The film is about two men who personally clash against each other and the Japanese during the Pacific War. One is Richardson (Gable), a senior submarine captain with a desk job at Pearl Harbor, who every day for a year broods over the loss of his boat to a Japanese destroyer that has a legendary ability to kill subs. Bledsoe (Lancaster) is an executive officer about to be promoted to command his own boat. Bad news for Bledsoe–Richardson has convinced the admiralty to give him Bledsoe’s command. His goal: Take it into the Bungo Straits and find the destroyer that destroyed his boat and career.
The film contains a lot of terrific elements: loyalty, courage, vendetta and honor, all against the backdrop of WWII. Richardson is obsessed, but as a commander with a crew’s lives in his hand, what price is he willing to pay to get what he wants? Bledsoe was shunted aside because of Richardson’s power play and openly resents it, but is he going to settle his own scores, or does he have the integrity to serve the rank if not the man who holds it?
After doing a ton of research into WWII submarines, I can tell you the film is as authentic as it gets in terms of what service was like on one of the fleet boats. It’s not surprising Beach, author of the book on which the film is based, actually served on submarines in the Pacific during the war against Japan.
Overall, I loved it, it was a great find. The story starts as an engaging personal conflict and ramps up the tension until it becomes a taut thriller that in my view could compete today with the best Hollywood thrillers.
The book has something of a different plot, and I look forward to reading it. The book is very hard to find, as it’s been out of print for years, but you can watch the film starting here: